Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
When last we saw John McClane (Bruce Willis), it was 1995 or as we now say, “The good ole days.” It was six years before 9/11 changed everything– including our movies. In the past few years we have seen 9/11 work its way into many different films, covering several genres, so it comes as no surprise that it should be at the center of Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth film in the Die Hard series. I have to admit that as I entered the theatre, I had low expectations, and I wondered why Bruce Willis was still making these films at the ripe-old-action-film-star-age of 52. I know, I know, the obvious answer is money, but after seeing the film I now realize that Willis must have seen what a clever and timely screenplay could do to revive a series that had been dead for 12 years. Live Free or Die Hard is the best Die Hard yet, and that’s incredibly rare for a fourth installment.
The film begins with the government’s computers in Washington D.C. going haywire and the F.B.I having no idea why. Meanwhile several hackers from around the country are mysteriously knocked off as the feds begin rounding them up to find out what’s going on. Enter Matt Farrell (Justin Long), a super hacker who is lucky enough to have McClane himself knock on his door. It doesn’t take long for the film’s first action sequence to commence, which involves McClane and Farrell narrowly escaping two hitmen who have come to assassinate Farrell. The reason for the hacker hits has to do with a brilliant psychopath named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), who along with the help of some disheveled looking computer experts is trying to shut down the country’s infrastructure one level at a time. Why? Well something to do with the government pulling the rug out from under him after he designed the whole post-9/11 computer security system, which of course was designed in our best interest, to protect us. Farrell and the other hackers unwittingly helped Gabriel begin his quest and are now paying for it with their lives.
Live Free or Die Hard spends most of its time with McClane and his hacker sidekick Farrell trying to avoid being wiped out by Gabriel who, with his elaborate hacking devices, has the ability to tie into any system that is run by computers and use it to his diabolical advantage. While his resources may seem a far cry from what is actually possible, the film successfully taps into the realistic fear that our government may not be prepared for “high-tech terrorism” that would have little in common with the low-tech kind we witnessed on 9/11. “It took FEMA five days to get water to New Orleans” says Farrell and our fears are instantly validated.
This isn’t to say that Live Free or Die Hard is necessarily a “thought-provoking” film, because at its heart lies a pure adrenaline-filled agenda with one action piece trumping the other in its sheer over-the-top inventiveness. Director Len Wiseman of Underworld fame cleverly uses the tunnels and highways of the D.C. area to stage his bravura action scenes. The one that takes place in a tunnel has cars coming in from both directions while McClane and Farrell are caught in the middle and I have to tell you that one particular stunt had me laughing from the sheer surprise of seeing a director do something that I’ve never seen before. Live Free or Die Hard has several of those moments.
Bruce Willis is once again perfect for this kind of stuff as his ability to lend humor to the proceedings allows him to laugh with us at his characters literally undying knack of getting out of even the most preposterous of situations. Justin Long is a welcome surprise as the young hacker who reacts to being caught in those situations the way you and I probably would, with utter panic. Timothy Olyphant, nearly unrecognizable with a crew cut, is solid as the unlikely bad guy. Adding to the films sense of humor, Kevin Smith shows up in a small role as a computer genius named “Warlock.”
Live Free or Die Hard gives us everything we would expect from a summer action flick and then some. We have been told again and again that we are safer now than before 9/11. If you would ask McClane I’m sure he would tell you that very little has changed except now the stakes seem much higher. How great it would be if we always had him to protect us.